“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 ESV
Each day of our lives we all stumble in many ways, in thoughts, words or deeds. But the outpouring of God’s mercies covers our lives. While it is difficult for us to fully understand the nature of God’s mercy, we experience its benefits in numerous ways. Not only are we forgiven when we confess our sin; but we are also cleansed, transformed and enabled to do better. It is His mercy, which causes us to grow into the likeness of Christ each day.
Sometimes we struggle with particular sins, and the battle seems endless. The area of our struggle might lie in our attitudes, behaviour or relationships, or we might battle with specific temptations, and despite our best efforts, we feel disheartened at the lack of progress. What then can we do? As someone who often struggles and is a slow plodder in spiritual matters, I do not have all the answers, but this is what I have learnt.
It is useless to wallow in discouragement; we need to rise up and move on. We ought to come back to the Lord, and aim to get things sorted out with Him. We must confess our sin, plead the blood of Jesus over our lives, cast our struggles on Him, and ask Him, for help in the future if we are confronted with a similar problem or temptation. ‘His mercies are new every morning’ means that like fresh manna they will descend from heaven each day to supply every contingency and every need.
As beneficiaries of this divine abundance, we have a special calling to fulfil. God wants us to become not just receptacles, but channels of His mercy. As channels we receive more and more of His mercy – when we willingly water the saplings around us. All around us there will be new growth, and we ourselves will grow up to become oaks of righteousness. How does one become a channel of God’s mercy? The scriptures teach us 3 things we ought to do.
1. Remember to thank God for His mercies. The psalms and epistles provide frequent reminders of the importance of thanking God. On receiving God’s mercy, psalmist cried out – “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord… I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-13,17 ESV).
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…” (Psalm 103:2-5 ESV).
Thanksgiving and remembrance are linked – they reinforce each other. We, humans tend to forget the goodness of God, once we are out of trouble. But as we make a deliberate effort to thank Him, even if we don’t feel like it, the recollection of His goodness brings forth more thanksgiving and praise.
A thankful spirit is receptive to the good things that God longs to pour into it. Our spirits need to keep receiving to be able to pour out God’s mercies and gifts to others.
2. Be merciful to others. When people hurt us or do us wrong, our natural fleshly reaction is to become upset. We may wish to avoid them or worse, hope they will suffer for it. But we are called to overcome evil with good. It is a rare Christian who will set out to take revenge, but even if we do nothing to hurt them in return, our spirits can close down to God’s mercy unless we are willing to forgive them, pray for them and where possible, do them good.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil… If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath… But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing, you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:17-25 HCSB)
To remain open to the streams of God, we must yield ourselves to Him and ask Him to unclog us of all negative feelings towards such people, and give us willing hearts to render mercy to those who hurt us.
3. ‘Carry each other’s burdens’. There is much for us to learn from the story of Peter’s fall and restoration about God’s dealings with us. Peter had denied the Lord, and abandoned Him in the day of His suffering. He was grieved and deeply ashamed afterwards, but his sinning did not take the Lord by surprise.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV).
Jesus had predicted that this would happen. He warned Peter in advance, and advised him to ‘watch and pray for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. The Lord faithfully upheld Peter in His prayers, and even told him what he should do after he had returned – he was to strengthen his brothers.
This is our calling too, as recipients of God’s limitless mercy. Jesus continues to pray for us as our High Priest, Advocate and Intercessor. He restores us, when we fall to, a right standing before God.
In turn, after we have been restored, we ought to pray for our brothers and sisters, who are struggling in a like manner. We should be available to encourage them, and gently restore them if they fall. Our former weaknesses and setbacks become a springboard of service.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2 ESV).
In the restoration of Peter, we find that Jesus did not approach him with condemnation. He had earlier rebuked Peter when he was being all too confident about himself, but there was not a single word of reproach after Peter had failed, and was in the depths of remorse. Rather, Jesus came to him in a spirit of love and gentleness, as He pointed him to the future.
So the purpose of our restoration is this – that we may go forth, and strengthen others. For there are others who are struggling in the very areas, where we also had been weak and vulnerable. But in supporting and encouraging others, we become channels of Christ’s mercy and restoration to these souls.
Father, thank You for Your mercy. Thank You for forgiving us and restoring us to your service when we stumble and fall. Help us to become channels of Your mercy, full of gratitude to you and mercy towards those who sin against us.
Lord, so many of our brothers and sisters struggle as we do. Please help them all. Let none who wait on You be ashamed. Help us to come forth victorious and bring glory to Your name. Teach us to strengthen others who struggle and to restore them if they fall. Help us not to fall again. In Jesus’ name.